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Does the Bible Demean Women?

In the United States of America, women have great freedoms and influence. Women are in influential positions all over our society; we even have two women justices on the Supreme Court. It is often assumed in our culture that for women to have equal rights, they have the right to do anything a man does. So when they read the Bible, many people in our culture see the Bible as sexist, demeaning toward women. So let’s look at four passages often taken as demeaning toward women.

Before we view these passages, let me ask you a question. Are you opposed to women’s suffrage? My daughter, Melissa, is a school teacher, and she often asks this question and frequently gets a response of yes, that they are opposed to women’s suffrage. Then they find out that the term means a woman’s right to vote. So if you are opposed to women’s suffrage, that means you are opposed to a woman’s right to vote! But some people misunderstand the term, because “suffrage” sounds like “suffering.”

Now, if English-speaking Americans can misunderstand a term in our own language, don’t you think it is possible that English-speaking Americans today might misunderstand something written in Greek and Hebrew to a different time and culture in the Bible? So let’s take a fresh look at four major passages that are often described as demeaning to women.

Genesis 2:18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Eve was created as Adam’s “helper” (NIV “suitable for him,” HCSB “as his complement”). This has often been distorted as if it means the woman is the man’s servant to do whatever he commands, but the Hebrew word is translated well in the HCSB as “his complement.” That is, she completes him. He has a role, she has a role, and the marriage and family meets its full potential when the woman and man function together.

1 Corinthians 11:3: Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

Man is the head of the woman. Greek word for head, kephale, when used metaphorically means “source, origin,” unlike the English word head which can also mean “chief, ruler.” So yes, it says that woman came out of the man and he leads her, but in the original Greek, the word “head” does not imply the domination that it does in our language. Remember, the man may be the head of the house, but the woman is the neck, and the head cannot turn without the neck!

Ephesians 5:22: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.

There is no verb in verse 22, and the verb is implied from verse 21, where we are first told to be in mutual submission to one another. Thus a wife’s submission only comes when the husband also has a humble and sacrificial attitude toward his wife. Notice as well that Ephesians 5:25 tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and Christ died for the church. Rarely does a wife have a problem submitting to a husband who is willing to die for her.

1 Timothy 2:12: I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

The point here is that men lead the church. This is why we do not call a woman as pastor. However, this does not mean that women can never teach men, or else Priscilla would have been wrong to teach Apollos in Acts 18:26. Also there are references to women prophesying in both the Old and New Testaments,and these prophesies were sometimes directed toward men. For example, Deborah was a prophetess and judge over Israel who commanded the man Barak to take up arms against the oppression of his people (Judges 4:4-7). So the point is not that women can never speak God’s word in church and community, but that the leadership role of pastor in the church is reserved for men.

So as we study these verses, we see that while they do give a leadership role to men, they are not nearly as negative toward women as often portrayed. As we can see, these verses do not justify abuse of women at all. However, they do teach a distinctions and differences in the roles of men and women. In our culture today, we have been conditioned to think that if there is any difference in the role, there is a difference in their value. But that is not what the Bible teaches, at all.

Genesis 1:27: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

This verse teaches that men and women are created equally in the image of God.

Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

This teaches that men and women are equal in Christ.

Sharon James, writing in The Apologetics Study Bible, uses the Trinity to illustrate how equality does not mean sameness and submission does not mean lesser worth. She points out that the three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are equally God, but have different roles. Likewise, men and women can have different roles and still be equal in value.

She also points out that Jesus, the Son of God, submits to God the Father. Likewise, wives who submit to their husbands are not worth less just because they are submissive.

Sharon James goes on to say that the different gender roles show how Eve was made as a complement to Adam: Masculine strength can be for protection and provision, while feminine sensitivity to relationships are useful for nurture and care.

The Bible does not put down women at all; it lifts them up! Historically, wherever Christianity has spread, the status of women has improved. Those countries where women are most exploited today are those with the least exposure to the gospel.

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